How to Help Your Employees Create a Sense of Belonging at Work

Your Business Must Meet 6 Core Employee Needs

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You want your employees to feel comfortable at work by providing an atmosphere where they feel they belong, and unhappy employees can make for an unpleasant workplace. So, how can you help your staff experience a sense of belonging at work? Here is what you need to know. 

Mark Ingwer has identified six core needs that lead to a feeling of connectedness—control, self-expression, growth, recognition, belonging, and care. These needs can be applied at school, in the home, and at the workplace.

If your business can meet these six core needs, you can help your employees gain a sense of belonging and ultimately make your organization a place where employees want to be. Here's how each of them can play out in an office environment.

Control

An empowered employee is more likely to be confident, creative, and committed to meaningful goals. Researchers looked at the difference between leaders who empower their employees and those who didn't. In turn, they found that managers who give employees the power to control their work had a staff that felt a sense of importance. 

Employees who feel confident at work demonstrate a sense of belonging and ultimately go about their jobs through a much more purposeful lens. Managers who encourage and empower not only get happier employees, they get better ones. 

Self-Expression 

Businesses often employ dress codes to ensure a uniform presentation of company values. However, that doesn't mean employees need to be identical; you don't want your employees to hate the company because the dress code is too severe.

Employees have fought court battles over issues such as the right to wear natural hair, and California and New York have laws that protect that act of self-expression. Likewise, laws protect employees who have specific dress requirements due to their religion. It's not just about the law—it's about employees feeling the freedom to be themselves at work. 

Growth

According to a study from the Society for Human Resource Management, employees prefer promotions without a pay increase over a pay increase without a promotion. While you may think money is a key motivator, there is another crucial one: growth. Employees who believe managers handle promotions fairly are more likely to stay at their current company, even without the added bonus of a higher salary. 

When fairness and growth are combined, you can see the impact on your retention. This indicates that employees feel like they belong. When managers recognize excellent performance and reward it with fair promotions, employees are happy to stay with a company. 

Recognition

By recognizing your employees’ accomplishments, you are showing them that you pay attention and you recognize their growth and progress. This recognition in tandem with the potential for growth within the company incentivizes employees to work harder, smarter, and with a more positive attitude.

There’s a distinction between giving praise to everyone, and actually recognizing an employee for their good performance. That authentic recognition has the best effect, because honest feedback allows employees to build relationships with their managers. People use "recognition" to describe just the rewards portion, but recognition can also come in the form of negative feedback. You cannot correct what you don't know, and negative feedback can be a powerful motivator.

Belonging

Belonging, of course, is the goal of the other principles covered here, but it also gets its own category. With 40% of people feeling left out or isolated at work, managers have a lot of opportunities to make the work situation and culture better. 

For instance, working on diversity and inclusion can help make people feel comfortable. Brains work through social thinking—that is, your employees want to be part of a group. And some researchers have found that belonging is "one of the most potent sources of motivation."

Making it clear that you support people from all backgrounds shows that you recognize the importance of inclusion at work. 

Care

You can sum up the above five core needs by knowing this last one: care. If you care about your employees, you'll give them control over their work, allow for promotions and growth, let employees be themselves at work, recognize them when they succeed (and provide constructive feedback when they fail), and help create a sense of belonging. These needs are connected.

Yes, you must follow the law, but showing you care is a step further. For instance, if an employee meets the criteria for family medical leave after the birth or placement of a child, you have to provide that leave. But, if you do so joyously and with concern for the employee’s well-being, they will feel that you care. 

The Bottom Line

If managers work to fill these needs for their employees, the employees will feel they belong in this workplace. When employees feel they belong in their workplace, they have a positive impact on the business.

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Article Sources

  1. Mark Ingwer. “Empathetic Marketing: How to Satisfy the 6 Core Needs of Your Customers.” Palgrave Macmillan. Accessed January 20, 2020.

  2. Harvard Business Review. “When Empowering Employees Works, and When It Doesn’t.” Accessed January 20, 2020.

  3. The Washington Post. “More states are trying to protect black employees who want to wear natural hairstyles at work.” Accessed January 20, 2020

  4. The New York Times. “Muslim Woman Denied Job Over Head Scarf Wins in Supreme Court.” Accessed January 20, 2020.

  5. SHRM. “Promotions Preferred to Pay Raises, Professionals Say.” Accessed January 20, 2020.

  6. Harvard Business Review. “How You Promote People Can Make or Break Company Culture.” Accessed January 20, 2020.

  7. SHRM. "How Ongoing Performance Management Benefits the Employee and the Business." Accessed February 14, 2020. 

  8. SHRM. “Mastering the Art of Negative Feedback.” Accessed January 20, 2020.

  9. Harvard Business Review. “The Value of Belonging at Work.” Accessed January 20, 2020.

  10. Ronald J. Burke, M. Astrid Richardsen. “Creating Psychologically Healthy Workplaces.” Page 219. Accessed January 20, 2020